Research. Research from the European Parliament lays bare the gender inequalities in economic and financial power, the labor market, leadership, health, and education.

The other two-speed Europe: The pay gap between men and women

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the European Parliamentary Research Service published a report with important statistical data that illustrates the situation of European women. On 13 and 14 March, the data will be central to the debate on the motion for the resolution Equality between women and men in the European Union in 2014-2015, put forward by the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM).

The report invites the E.U. government to put gender equality at the top of its own political agenda, primarily by promoting female representation in all decision-making processes and closing the wage gap. Recently, the European Parliament adopted specific resolutions regarding women, on the work-life balance (2016), the gender wage gap (2015) as well as that of the digital industry (2016), but there is still a long way to go.

The labor market

Gender dynamics have always shaped the European labor markets, along with social protection programs, which sometimes impede access to the labor market or demonstrate how the participation rate is inversely proportional to the fertility rate — 1.5 children per woman in the E.U. A situation that has intensified in these recent times of economic and financial crisis.

In the last two decades, there has been a continuous increase in the female workforce: currently, the employment rate for women in the E.U. aged between 20 and 64 years is, on average, 64.3 percent. But the picture becomes more complicated when we break this down to look at education levels. Only 42.8 percent of women with primary-level education are employed; Portugal has the highest number (42 percent), while Lithuania has the lowest (3 percent).

On average, nine women out of 100 in the European Union (9.3 percent) are unemployed, with large variation between the member states, from 28.9 percent in Greece to 4.2 percent in Germany. There are around two million unemployed Europeans aged between 15 and 24 years old, and, in the same age bracket, in the E.U., around 12.3 percent on average are neet, that is they are “Not in Education, Employment, or Training.”

The European Commission examined 613 of the biggest listed companies in the E.U.: only 5 percent of the women are CEOs, 7 percent are chairs and around 23 percent are members of the Board of Directors. Furthermore, 6.3 percent of women and 8 percent of men are employed as scientists and engineers; in 10 member states, the female employment rate in these sectors is higher than that of men. Conversely, Finland has many more men (14.9 percent) than women (6.5 percent) working in these areas.

In addition, women and girls are more likely to take on unpaid work, such as caring, cooking and cleaning. Globally, women claim to spend 19 percent of their time carrying out unpaid work, while men only spend 8 percent of theirs on the same.

Economic resources

The gender gap in total earnings is 39.7 percent. This means that for every €100 a man earns, a woman earns €60, although this varies between member states. The percentages range from 19.2 percent in Lithuania to 47.5 percent in the Netherlands. Women’s salaries also tend to be lower if they have a child, while the salary of fathers, on the other hand, increase, almost proving that women are penalised for motherhood.

There is also a gender pension gap of 40 percent, demonstrating the income inequality that women over 65 years have accumulated. In all the member states, women’s average pensions are lower than men’s, leaving women over 65 with a substantially higher risk of poverty than men.

According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), women in the E.U. have less access to economic and financial resources than men; the percentage of 68.9 percent in 2005 even decreased to 67.8 percent in 2012.

In the E.U., men (62 percent) tend to save more money than women (59 percent); the biggest gender gaps as a percentage are in Spain (16), Italy (15) and Poland (12). Men (38 percent) tend to borrow money more than women (34.9 percent), as evidence shows in 18 member states. This has proven to be a global trend: as seen in a recent report of 2016 from the United Nations, 57 percent of women across the world have a financial account, in comparison to 64 percent of men.

This is even worse when it comes to savings and credit, especially for those living in extreme poverty (less than two dollars a day). Women are 28 percent less likely than men to have an official bank account, due to having lower credibility with banks and financial institutions.


For most of history, women have also been excluded from leadership roles in most companies. The feminist movements of the 20th century highlighted the absence of women in traditional positions of authority, and so they were able to start emerging. But they are still underrepresented in leadership roles.

Internationally, female Heads of State and Government are still a minority, despite increasing from 12 to 22 in the last 20 years, and only 18 percent of appointed ministers are women, although usually they are assigned portfolios relating to social issues. Currently, in the European Union, only 37 percent of the European Parliament’s members are women, along with 27 percent of ministers and 26 percent of undersecretaries between the E.U. member states.

Women play an important part in mediation, pacification and transitional justice. The data from 182 peace agreements signed between 1989 and 2011 show that when women are involved in the peace process, peace agreements are 20 percent more likely to last at least two years and 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years.

Health and education

UNESCO recently reminded us that 60 million children in the world are still denied an education; for this reason, it is key to improve access to education, healthcare, the labor market and equal pay. According to the United Nations, the right to sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) is not only an integral part of the right to health, but it’s also connected to the enjoyment of many other human rights. Statistics show that providing children and young people with adequate educational training helps to break the cycle of poverty and cause a chain reaction of opportunities that will affect future generations.

Educated women are less likely to get married underage or against their will and less likely to die during childbirth, and are more likely to bring up healthy children and send their children to school.

The higher the literacy rate, the lower the education gap between men and women. Only 20 E.U. member states have compulsory sex education and many women still do not have suitable access to contraception.

A recent study shows that, in Europe, the gender wealth gap, in terms of assets owned, investments and savings, is becoming more meaningful than earnings as a determining factor of inequality.

Our politicians and institutions can reduce this inequality by closing the wage gap and helping women to build wealth to invest in themselves and their children, in the fight against unemployment and financial emergencies.

Caterina Francesca Guidi is a researcher at GlobalStat of the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, who, together with the European Parliament Research Service (EPRS), contributed to Empowering women in the E.U. and beyond, the source of the analyzed data.

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